Why Lottery Advertising Is So Persuasive

A lottery is a process of allocating prizes based on chance, whereby tickets are sold and winners are selected through a random drawing. The prizes may be money or items of unequal value. A lottery is often run as a public service, with proceeds going to the benefit of some specified group or cause. It is a form of gambling and as such is subject to legal and ethical considerations. Lotteries can be either commercial or noncommercial. Commercial lotteries offer cash prizes to individuals who purchase a ticket or entries, with some percentage of the total amount of sales normally being paid as costs and profits for the organizer. Noncommercial lotteries typically offer goods or services to participants, such as membership in a sports club or school.

There are a number of arguments for and against lotteries, ranging from the personal tragedy of compulsive gambling to the alleged regressive impact on lower-income groups. Regardless of their rationale, it is generally accepted that the success of any lottery depends on a large and growing base of regular players who will buy tickets even at high prices. Consequently, much lottery advertising is geared to persuading potential players to do exactly that, a function that can be at cross-purposes with the public interest.

Many people are attracted to the idea of winning a big prize and believe that their chances of doing so are reasonable, particularly when the jackpot is sufficiently large. This perception can lead to irrational spending, which is one reason why lottery advertising is so persuasive. Nevertheless, a substantial proportion of those who play the lottery do so in ways that are not necessarily irrational and often make sound decisions.

Despite their largely irresponsible and unethical nature, state-sponsored lotteries remain popular and generate considerable revenue. The lion’s share of these revenues comes from a small segment of the population, known as “super users.” These are the people who make up 70 to 80 percent of total ticket purchases. In order to ensure that these super users continue to participate, the marketing strategy must be continuously updated to appeal to new generations of potential players.

A common argument for the adoption of a lottery is that it offers a source of “painless” revenue—players voluntarily spend their money (and not their taxes) for the good of the state. This argument is especially persuasive during periods of fiscal stress when the threat of tax increases or cutbacks in public programs is strong. However, studies have shown that the popularity of lotteries is not correlated to the objective fiscal condition of states.

The draw for the winners of a lottery must be conducted in such a way that it is fair to all. Several elements are essential to this purpose: a pool of tickets or counterfoils from which the winners are selected; a selection procedure that thoroughly mixes the tickets or counterfoils, such as shaking or tossing them; and a system for extracting the winning numbers or symbols. The first of these requirements is commonly achieved with a random number generator, but other methods can be used as well.